Fletcher launches Climate Policy Lab to help countries meet Paris Agreement

The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy launched its Climate Policy Lab (CPL) on Nov. 15 at the 22nd annual Conference of the Parties (COP 22) in Marrakech, Morocco.

Professor of Energy and Environmental Policy and CPL Director Kelly Sims Gallagher explained that the CPL has two main purposes.

“The first purpose is to work with governments as they prepare to implement their commitments under the Paris Agreement,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher explained that every country that signed the Paris Agreement — an international accord ratified by 115 countries in an effort to keep global temperatures below two degrees Celcius above pre-industrial levels — was required to submit an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), which outlines the country’s plans to mitigate climate change. The CPL will conduct research to help countries determine which policies to implement to successfully fulfill their commitments, according to Gallagher

Gallagher said the CPL’s other goal  is “to do cross-country comparative policy analysis to more generally understand how climate policy can be made more effective.”

The creation of a Climate Policy Performance Index is one facet of the CPL that will help illustrate the countries’ relative efforts. Gallagher explained that the index will be a ranking system that will show which countries are performing well and which ones are lagging behind in terms of climate policy. 

Gallagher said that her idea for the CPL began to form during her time as a Senior Policy Advisor in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. She noticed that governments needed guidance in developing their INDCs and thought a university program could be an effective aid.

After leaving the White House to return to the Fletcher School last year, Gallagher started planning the CPL and began fundraising efforts, since the CPL is funded entirely by external grants, Gallagher said. 

Postdoctoral Fellow Laura Kuhl, who serves as Adaptation Resilience Lead for the CPL, said that the CPL is capable of molding itself to fit the needs of countries that ask for help. The growing network of collaborators involved with the CPL, who range from Ph.D. and Master’s students to professors from various schools and departments associated with Tufts, will work in teams based on their expertise to solve policy problems brought to the CPL. 

“The vision for the lab is that it will be very much driven by the needs of developing countries,” Kuhl said.

Kuhl manages the lab’s relationship with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The partnership was also announced at the conference in Marrakech.

“The UNDP gets requests from governments for support for their climate policies, but they don’t necessarily have the analytical capacity to offer advice and guidance on what policies might best fit that country,” Kuhl said.

She noted that the UNDP has established offices in most developing countries and already has relationships with their governments. When governments request climate policy support from the UNDP, the CPL will be able to provide sound guidance based on its research, Kuhl explained.

Kuhl said she focuses on policy in developing countries, while third year Ph.D. student Fang Zhang assists Gallagher with projects involving China.

Zhang said that she and Gallagher are currently working on projects with Bloomberg L.P. and the Energy Foundation.

Ph.D. student Rishikesh Bhandary, who conducts research and produces policy briefs on behalf of the CPL, noted that one of the its strengths is the relative speed with which it can respond to queries while still maintaining a high level of quality because of the lab’s small size. 

“Instead of taking seven years to come up with a summary for policy makers as the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] does, this is far more problem-driven about targeted issues, with the same rigor,” Bhandary said.

Bhandary said that the CPL fills a niche that needed attention.

“Because there is such a strong appetite for so many countries to start taking action on climate change, and yet at the same time there’s so little information on how exactly you would go about doing it, I think something that tries to bridge that is seen as being particularly valuable,” Bhandary said.

Zhang explained that the CPL is in its early stages and that more help will be needed within it as more countries request assistance.

“The lab is a big umbrella and there are different topics, different projects within the lab from different perspectives,” Zhang said. “Right now, we actually are trying to reach out for more research assistants in this field.”

Members of the CPL also expressed a sense of resolve in the aftermath of the recent U.S. presidential election. According to Gallagher, countries around the world have maintained their resolve to combat climate change.

“Two weeks ago at the international negotiations, country after country said no matter what the U.S. does, even if the U.S. withdraws, we plan to stay in — including China,” Gallagher said.

Kuhl echoed this sentiment, explaining that every country needs to implement policies independently, regardless of how the U.S. chooses to act.

Obviously, the U.S. has been a leader, and it would be nice if the U.S. continued to play a leadership role, but in terms of the need for this type of analysis and partnerships, it’s just as relevant,” Kuhl said.

In an official press release, Dean of the Fletcher School James Stavridis agreed with the necessity of such an initiative.

“Leadership on climate change is shifting, and the Lab will serve as a much needed partner and resource for policymakers,” Stavridis said.

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